Southwest Airlines Co. is in talks with other carriers and expects to secure a partner for international flights by its original goal of 2009, Chairman Herb Kelleher said.
That target was thrown into question when ATA Airlines Inc. filed for bankruptcy and stopped flying in April. The companies had planned to expand their 2005 U.S. marketing accord to add ATA service to Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean next year.
Southwest, the largest discount carrier, has been "assiduously talking to other airlines about the possibility of code sharing with them," Kelleher, 77, said this past week in an interview. "We are working feverishly on changing our system so we can accommodate international code shares."
Kelleher wouldn't name any of the prospective partners, which would operate overseas flights that could be sold by either airline. Dallas-based Southwest now flies only in the U.S. and has said it should finish modifying its computer systems next year to allow for international travel.
Southwest eventually may begin using its own planes on the "near-international" routes, Chief Executive Officer Gary Kelly has said.
New revenue from international flights and other sources such as fees for priority boarding would help Southwest blunt rising spending on jet fuel and labor. Southwest expected about $20 million in 2008 revenue from its accord with ATA before that carrier ended flights, down from a peak of $50 million.
"We discovered really how productive a code-share relationship could be," Kelleher said of the ATA accord. "It far exceeded any hopes I personally had. That kind of opened our eyes to its potential." The code-sharing label refers to the airlines' exchange of the data used in reservation systems.